Apples not just for juice anymore

This might seem an odd time to think about apple ciders and apple wines, but don’t be surprised if you end up serving some at your Fourth of July backyard picnic.

The ancient libations, habitually the object of consumer attention in the fall when apple harvests take place, are part of a growing niche in the U.S. and elsewhere as more and more entrepreneurs look for products that will endear them to those consumers.

And it’s not just boutique American cider- and winemakers who are making their presence felt. Larger foreign producers, particularly from the United Kingdom, are targeting the U.S. market with their latest apple-based products.

They no doubt became emboldened enough to plan such a market expansion when a year ago a Nielsen market survey reported that cider had experienced the biggest year-over-year increase in UK beverage sales, jumping 29% to make it the No. 5 product there after wine, lager beer, blended whiskey and vodka. And, the same report said, cider outstripped beer among UK consumers buying an alcoholic beverage for the first time. So, why not the huge U.S. market?

As a result, Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Organic Cider is going national in the U.S. this month. It is a product of the oldest brewery in Yorkshire, England, which is celebrating its 250th anniversary this year.

As the company explained in an announcement, "Apple juice used to produce cider contains a mix of apple varieties selected to balance fresh apple flavor with tartness, acidity, and sweetness. Samuel Smith's uses a wine yeast strain to ferment their cider, providing a clean finish and allowing pure apple flavor to shine through."

The naturally gluten-free beverage is 5% alcohol by volume (ABV), equal to 10 proof. It also is high in antioxidants and is certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

From north of our border, Domaine Pinnacle also has gotten in on the act. The Canadian orchard and winery that produces some of the world's top-ranked iced apple wines has just introduced what is believed to be the first sparkling ice apple wine.

It is made from a blend of six different types of apples, hand picked after the first frost. Once the frozen water is removed, the remaining juices are cold fermented for up to eight months. Production of the 12% ABV apple wine is limited to 30,000 cases.

"Pinnacle Ice Apple has already proved ... a superb quality alternative aperitif or dessert wine which is growing in popularity ... ," said Cyril Camus, president of the Camus firm that is distributing the ice wine.

Domaine Pinnacle, founded in 2000, is located on a 430-acre property on the slopes of Pinnacle Mountain near the village of Frelighsburg in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, near the Vermont border. In fact, its cidery and retail shop are located in the property's original 1859 farmhouse which offers views of Quebec, Vermont and New York State.

Pinnacle is owned and operated by Susan and Charles Crawford, with the wine- and cider-making handled by Christian Barthomeuf, the French emigré who pioneered ice wine making in Quebec.

Despite these newcomers, the market does not belong to the imports.

Farnum Hill Ciders, at Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, NH, has been growing heirloom apple trees for 16 years and making ciders in a very traditional (i.e., English) way.

Rather than the Macintosh, Delicious, Jonathan and Braeburn apples we see in stores, traditional ciders from Farnum and some other growers rely on such varieties as Esopus Spitzberg, Yarlington Mill, Kingston Black, Medaille d'Or and Dabinett to turn out a wide variety of ciders, each with its own nuances. These varieties that were cellar staples in colonial times or in common usage in Europe, but now are rarities here.

Apple-based ciders and wines are becoming a steadily increasing slice of business for a cluster of producers in the area where New York, Massachusetts and Vermont come together near Albany, NY.

The Brookview Station Winery at the Goold Orchard in Castleton, NY, turns out a line of apple wines. The North River Winery of Jacksonville, VT, offers 18 different wines made from apples as well as other fruits. And, nearby in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, the Furnace Brook Winery at Hilltop Orchards makes wine and cider from apples to supplement its line of grape wines.

In various winemaking competitions, apple cider and apple wine products have been winning medals.

At the latest Hudson Valley Commercial Wine Competition held in upstate New York, the Cornell Cup for "Best Hudson River Region (AVA) Wine" went to Brookview Station Winery's 2006 Semi-Dry Apple Wine, and the gold medal for best sparkling fruit wine went to Doc's Hard Apple Cider, produced by Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery which is located just an hour’s drive north of midtown Manhattan.

And, in an otherwise grape-centric region of upstate New York, judges at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition awarded a gold medal for under-7% ABV cider to Petit Pomme Cidre Leger 2006 from Les Vergers Petit et Fils of Quebec.

When shopping for cider, it is important to understand its definition. While some people refer to apple juice as cider, true cider must be fermented to release alcohol. “Hard cider” runs anywhere from 3 to 15% ABV in traditional blends. And, although it usually is made from apples, there also is a pear cider, known in England as perry and still popular across the English Channel in the Normandy region of France as well as up north in Sweden.

If you’re ambitious you can always make your own hard cider. Directions are available online from various do-it-yourselfers, ranging from hobbyist to professional sites. Here is a step-by-step procedure culled from such sources:


• If you can obtain a clean wooden barrel, that is best since it allows the liquid to breathe. However, you can use clean five-gallon glass or plastic jugs.

• You will need an air lock to keep out air and let in gas produced by the chemical reaction. It is available from vendors dealing in winemaking supplies. Or, you can drill a hole in the bottle stopper or cap then insert a clean plastic tube that fits snugly into the hole. One end of the tube will go into the container and the other into a separate container of water to allow gas to bubble out and keep air from getting in.

• Begin with commercial apple cider as your base, preferably one made of three or more types of apples and definitely without preservatives. You can obtain this from a local cider mill. Ask if the cider has been cold pasteurized, which kills unwanted microorganisms with ultraviolet light rather than heat which would affect the taste.

• If desired, you can use yeast in your process although it is not mandatory. Dry wine yeasts can be used to help ferment your cider.


• To make a dry hard cider, add one pound of sugar per gallon. For a sweeter liquid, add 1 ½ pounds per gallon.

• Put the air lock on the container and store at 60 to 70 degrees for 8-10 weeks. (The sugar will take longer to turn to alcohol if stored at lower temperatures.)

• After the aging period, siphon the cider from the container into a clean container, wash the original container, then return the cider to it. Be sure to avoid touching the sediment in the original container with the siphon hose.

• Store cider at 40-60 degrees for six months to as long as you wish to age it, particularly if you use a wooden barrel.
in a wooden barrel.


You can get details of additional steps to create different expressions of hard cider to fit your taste, available time and finances from these online sources:

Mother Earth News
Cornell University horticulture
Virtual Orchard

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